Environmental activist, 14, shot dead in Colombia

A 14-year-old environmental activist has been shot dead in Colombia, indigenous groups and officials said, in the latest such attack in the world’s deadliest country for environmentalists.

Breiner David Cucuname was one of two people killed while taking part in a rural security patrol Friday by an indigenous guard in the southwestern Cauca department plagued by violence between illicit armed groups.

The group of the Nasa indigenous community, armed only with batons, came across armed men on their patrol route, according to the Cauca regional indigenous council (CRIC).

The men opened fire, killing a member of the guard and young Cucuname, who it described as “a defender of our Mother Earth.”  

Two others were injured, the CRIC added.

Another indigenous grouping, ACIN, blamed the shooting on dissidents of the FARC guerilla group who rejected a 2016 peace deal that ended near six decades of conflict in Colombia. It said two of the gunmen were arrested.

President Ivan Duque said on Twitter the death of the boy, a “flag-bearer of environmental protection in his community of Cauca, fills us with sadness.”

On Monday, Colombia’s human rights ombudsman said 145 community leaders and rights defenders were killed in 2021.

They included 32 representatives of indigenous groups, 16 advocates for rural or agricultural communities, and seven trade unionists. 

Despite the peace pact, Colombia has seen a flare-up of violence in recent months due to fighting over territory and resources by dissident FARC guerrillas, the ELN rebel group, paramilitary forces and drug cartels.

It is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for activists, according to observer groups such as Global Witness, which has identified the country as the deadliest for environmentalists, with 65 killed in 2020.

The regions with the highest number of killings last year were the same in which fighting is fierce over thousands of hectares of drug crops or illegal mines.

Duque’s government accuses drug traffickers of being behind the killings in the country, which is the world’s largest cocaine producer.

According to the Indepaz thinktank, Cucuname was the second environmental defender killed this year, for a total of 1,288 since the 2016 peace agreement.

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